Mu­seum prov­ing ‘dis­gust­ing’ is in the eye — yuck! — of the be­holder

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Alek­san­dar Ljubojevic and Vanessa Gera

MALMO, Swe­den — Sheep eye­ball juice. Bull tes­ti­cles. Mag­got-in­fested cheese. Amer­i­can root beer.

These are among the items con­sid­ered palat­able or even re­garded as del­i­ca­cies in some cul­tures that the Dis­gust­ing Food Mu­seum in Malmo, Swe­den, is serv­ing up.

The tem­po­rary mu­seum, which opened Wed­nes­day, clearly braced for re­volted vis­i­tors to gag at the foods on dis­play, most of which can be smelled or tasted. Tick­ets came in the form of vomit bags.

Cu­ra­tor Sa­muel West said the ex­hi­bi­tion is meant to en­ter­tain, but also to con­vey a thought-pro­vok­ing mes­sage: What is con­sid­ered ap­pe­tiz­ing or re­pul­sive is learned and can change. He hopes vis­i­tors will be en­cour­aged to try more sus­tain­able food prod­ucts that are be­ing de­vel­oped or mar­keted, such as in­sects and lab­grown meat.

“Dis­gust is one of the six fun­da­men­tal hu­man emo­tions, and the evo­lu­tion­ary func­tion of dis­gust is to help us to avoid foods that might be dan­ger­ous, that are con­tam­i­nated, toxic,” West said. “Dis­gust is hard­wired as an emo­tion but what we find dis­gust­ing is cul­tur­ally learned.”

The idea of ex­plor­ing gross food came to him with aware­ness that the “sin­gle most im­pact­ful way we can im­pact the en­vi­ron­ment is by eat­ing less meat,” he said.

“It’s an ex­hi­bi­tion that asks vis­i­tors to chal­lenge their no­tions of what is dis­gust­ing and what is de­li­cious, and the aim is to get peo­ple to un­der­stand there is no ob­jec­tive mea­sure of dis­gust,” West said. “For some, the rev­e­la­tion might be that ‘maybe in­sects aren’t as dis­gust­ing as I thought.’ ”

The 80 food items in the mu­seum’s ex­hibit in­clude a bull’s pe­nis, frog smooth­ies from Peru, a wine made of baby mice that is con­sumed in China and Korea, and Swe­den’s “surstrom­ming,” an in­fa­mously pu­trid fer­mented her­ring.

Vis­i­tors are also in­tro­duced to “ba­lut,” par­tially de­vel­oped duck fe­tuses that are boiled in­side the egg and eaten straight from the shell in the Philip­pines, as well as “casu marzu ,”a Sar­dinian pecorino cheese in­fested by mag­gots.

Also in­cluded are items many Western vis­i­tors might not con­sider dis­gust­ing at all. Swedish vis­i­tors are sur­prised to find salty licorice, pop­u­lar in Swe­den but per­ceived as dis­gust­ing to many oth­ers.

Amer­i­can foods on dis­play in­clude Jell-O salad, made of gelatin and typ­i­cally fruit; canned pork brains with milk gravy; and root beer, a sweet soft drink that Swedes say tastes like tooth­paste.

“I think that by turn­ing the lens onto our­selves, on Swedish or Amer­i­can food cul­ture, we are say­ing, ‘We treat ev­ery­one the same,’ ” West said.

West said he has man­aged to sam­ple only about half of the more ex­otic col­lected con­sum­ables. Asked if he ever vom­ited while pre­par­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion, he said, “Ev­ery day.”

ANJA BARTE TELIN/AP PHO­TOS

Amer­i­can Jello-O salad — filled with any number of things, in­clud­ing fruit, veg­eta­bles, sausages and olives — is on dis­play at the Dis­gust­ing Food Mu­seum in Malmo, Swe­den.

Above: Cen­tury eggs are pre­served in a mix of clay, quick­lime, ash, salt and rice hulls for sev­eral months. Be­low: Spicy rab­bit heads.

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